Tag: Austin Kleon

The importance of marginalia

Austin Kleon makes a simple, but important point, about how to become a writer:

I believe that the first step towards becoming a writer is becoming a reader, but the next step is becoming a reader with a pencil. When you underline and circle and jot down your questions and argue in the margins, you’re existing in this interesting middle ground between reader and writer:

Kleon has previously recommended Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren’s How to Read a Book, which I bought last time he mentioned it. Ironically enough, it’s sitting on my bookshelf, unread. Anyway, he quotes Adler and Van Doren as saying:

Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it — which comes to the same thing — is by writing in it. Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake — not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author. Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author….Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements…It is the highest respect you can pay him.

I read a lot of non-fiction books on my e-reader*, so the equivalent of that for me is Thought Shrapnel, I guess…

Source: Austin Kleon

* Note: I left my old e-reader on the flight home from our holiday. I took the opportunity to upgrade to the bq Cervantes 4, which I bought from Amazon Spain.

On living in public

In this post, Austin Kleon, backpedaling a little from the approach he seemed to promote in Show Your Work!, talks about the problems we all face with ‘living in public’.

It seems ridiculous to say, but 2013, the year I wrote the book, was a simpler time. Social media seemed much more benign to me. Back then, the worst I felt social media did was waste your time. Now, the worst social media does is cripple democracy and ruin your soul.

Kleon quotes Warren Ellis, who writes one of my favourite newsletters (his blog is pretty good, too):

You don’t have to live in public on the internet if you don’t want to. Even if you’re a public figure, or micro-famous like me. I don’t follow anyone on my public Instagram account. No shade on those who follow me there, I’m glad you give me your time – but I need to be in my own space to get my shit done. You want a “hack” for handling the internet? Create private social media accounts, follow who you want and sit back and let your bespoke media channels flow to you. These are tools, not requirements. Don’t let them make you miserable. Tune them until they bring you pleasure.

In May 2017, after being on Twitter over a decade, I deleted my Twitter history, and now delete tweets on a weekly basis. Now, I hang out on a social network that I co-own called social.coop and which is powered by a federated, decentralised service called Mastodon.

I still publish my work, including Thought Shrapnel posts, to Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. It’s just not where I spend most of my time. On balance, I’m happier for it.

Source: Austin Kleon

Profiting from your enemies

While I don’t feel like I’ve got any enemies, I’m sure there’s plenty of people who don’t like me, for whatever reason. I’ve never thought about framing it this way, though:

In Plutarch’s “How to Profit by One’s Enemies,” he advises that rather than lashing out at your enemies or completely ignoring them, you should study them and see if they can be useful to you in some way. He writes that because our friends are not always frank and forthcoming with us about our shortcomings, “we have to depend on our enemies to hear the truth.” Your enemy will point out your weak spots for you, and even if he says something untrue, you can then analyze what made him say it.

People close to us don’t want to offend or upset us, so they don’t point out areas where we could improve. So we should take negative comments and, rather than ‘feed the trolls’ use it as a way to get better (without even ever referencing the ‘enemy’).

Source: Austin Kleon

Do the tools you use matter?

An interesting post from Austin Kleon on whether tools matter. It was prompted by the image accompanying this post, which met with some objections when he shared it with others:

On my Instagram, a follower was very upset with the above cartoon, saying it was “mean” and “hurtful” and not smart and ungrateful to my fans, and that I should try to “remember what it was like to be a beginner.”

He defends his position, partly by telling stories, but also by stating:

There are actually very good reasons for not wanting to teach young artists. There are good reasons for not answering a question like, “What brand of pen do you use?” or questions about process at all.

If you are just starting off and I tell you exactly how I work, right down to the brand of pen and notebook, I am, in a some small sense, robbing you of the experience of finding your own materials and your own way of working.

It’s been interesting seeing Bryan Mathers’ journey over the last five years. I’ve seen him go from using basic apps which work ‘just fine’ to reaching the limits of those and having to upgrade to more powerful stuff. That’s a voyage of discovery, but along the way it’s absolutely useful to find out what other people use.

Kleon points out that we can do better than tool-related questions:

So, yes, the tools matter, but again, it’s all about what you are trying to achieve. So a question like, “What brand of pen do you use?” is not as good as “How do you get that thick line quality?” or “How do you dodge Writer’s Block?”

I’m a fan of a great site called Uses This (formerly ‘The Setup’) which asks a range of people the hardware and software they use to get stuff done. The interviews are always structured around the same four questions, but the best responses are ones that take the idea and run with it a bit.

Note to self: update the version of this I did back in 2011.

Source: Austin Kleon

How we get influence backwards

Austin Kleon reflects on the following quotation from Jean-Michel Basquiat:

You’ve got to realize that influence is not influence. It’s simply someone’s idea going through my new mind.

In other words, the person who’s doing the influencing doesn’t know they’re doing the influencing. We say that an artist or writer was influenced by someone, but that’s the wrong way around:

When we say, “Basquiat was influenced by Van Gogh,” that isn’t really correct, because it implies that Van Gogh is doing something to Basquiat, when actually the opposite is true.

Kleon continues to quote K.K. Ruthven:

Our understanding of literary ‘influence’ is obstructed by the grammar of our language, which puts things back to front in obliging us to speak in passive terms of the one who is the active partner in the relationship: to say that Keats influenced Wilde is not only to credit Keats with an activity of which he was innocent, but also to misrepresent Wilde by suggesting he merely submitted to something he obviously went out of his way to acquire. In matters of influence, it is the receptor who takes the initiative, not the emitter. When we say that Keats had a strong influence on Wilde, what we really mean is that Wilde was an assiduous reader of Keats, an inquisitive reader in the service of an acquisitive writer.

I like things that make me think differently about things I take for granted, especially ones that have been encoded into language.

Source: Austin Kleon